Friday, 30 August 2013

Confronting the Demon: An Experiment in Self-Publishing

You could be forgiven for being surprised that I’m about to self-publish – you might have the impression that I’m against the indie movement. 

You could be forgiven, but you’d also be wrong.

I have been outspoken in the past about self-publishing, but less against the concept of self-publishing, which I think is a fantastic opportunity for talented writers, and more against the execution of the idea. Which is to say, it is a fantastic opportunity for talented writers, but many (though not all) of those writers take short-cuts. Self-publishing is too often perceived as a reason not to do the hard yards, a way to circumvent the long arduous toil that is the pursuit of publishing, while failing to recognise that we learn from the hard knocks.

Nothing makes me cringe more than the biography of an author announcing this is their first book. Not their first published book. Their first book. There are a handful of exceptions – perhaps they’ve been working on it, rewriting and revising for a number of years, or perhaps they’ve written others, but came back to, and revised and polished, their first, for example. But many of them literally mean their first book, and all too often, the first draft of the first book.

Confronting the Demon will be my debut book, but like many of the self-published authors I respect, it’s not my first book. Previous to it I have written eight novel-length stories, and there are excellent reasons none of those have been published – or ever will be without significant rewriting. I’m also not self-publishing it because I’m pissed off with the traditional model for refusing to publish me – in fact, I will still pursue traditional publishing on other projects.

Many of those authors publishing their first book may be talented, but many are also yet to learn their craft. Like we wouldn’t seek medical advice from a first year medical student, or ask a first year law student to defend us in court, all too often those books fall short of the standard set by true professional writers - and I don’t define professional as ‘traditionally published’ here. A professional writer is someone who has gone about the business of writing with a professional attitude, who has done their study (by whatever route – it doesn’t have to mean university or an MFA), who seeks constant improvement, who doesn’t treat it like a hobby, and doesn’t expect the consumer to pay for a sub-standard product.  

So if I was to self-publish, I was determined to do it right. That meant editors, because a story that hasn’t been edited is like an uncut gemstone; it has value, but with a bit of cutting and polishing, it will really shine. Ideally you need three – a content editor, a line editor and a proof-reader. Many writers use the one editor for all three jobs, or at least to content edit and line edit, but it’s difficult for the one person to do all three jobs, or even two of those three jobs, for the same reason it’s difficult for a writer to edit their own work; eventually the editor becomes close enough to your work that they also can’t see their errors.

It also meant a quality cover artist, because let’s face it, readers do judge a book by its cover. It’s the first thing they see, the writer’s first opportunity to hook the reader, and if you miss that chance, all too often you don’t get a second chance.

More than both of those things, though, I needed the right project.

For a number of years now, I’ve only had the one book that I considered might be of a sufficient standard to publish, and I wasn’t prepared to commit my one quality work to self-publishing at a time when I was undecided what direction the publishing industry was taking, least of all a 100,000 word book with six sequels. I had too much hard work in it to casually decide its fate – if I was to ever self-publish it, then it would happen after due consideration, and then probably not until I had written the first two sequels. In short, it wasn’t happening any time soon.

Then I wrote a fantasy short story determined to be something more, and my first novella was born.
A novella, to my mind, was a better candidate for a first foray into self-publishing. It’s shorter, so there’s less time invested. A traditional market exists for novella, but not a very big one, so this story had very limited opportunities to be traditionally published. The story is self-contained, so while hopefully my readers will want more, they won’t specifically be waiting for a conclusion to this story – which suits me, since I work full-time, and have two children under three at home. I can only commit to so much.

And so Confronting the Demon began a rather fast, hectic but ultimately short journey to publication. Interested to know more? Here’s the blurb:

The gates to hell are thrown wide when Alloran is betrayed by his best friend, Ladanyon, and framed for forbidden magic. He is pursued by the guards and the wizards both, tormented by the gruesome murder of his friends and loved ones, and crippled by fear for the living. Now Alloran must face his demons, or lose the woman he loves.

Confronting the Demon is due for release in mid- to late-September.

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